With a global pandemic looming over schools, using text and voice apps for communication and student engagement became a no-brainer

How text and voice apps are changing student engagement

With a global pandemic looming over schools, using text and voice apps for communication and student engagement became a no-brainer

The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in some major changes for educators across the globe. Classes became virtual, as did most everything else, and administrators, teachers, and students alike received a crash course on the finer points of digital learning technology. As a result, digital transformation is no longer an alien concept–it’s a reality that everyone has had to embrace with open arms.

Although Zoom made a lion’s share of the headlines over the last year, other innovative new tools and concepts were also hard at work filling the gaps between students and teachers. One such technology, developed by Mote Technologies, is a Google Chrome extension enabling teachers to leave voice notes and feedback on documents, assignments, and emails via Google Classroom, Gmail, Google Docs, and more.

Thanks to the likes of Clubhouse, voice apps are extremely popular right now. However, they aren’t just being used for social purposes. Teachers are turning to voice apps like Mote to give students richer and more meaningful feedback on homework assignments. Of Mote’s 1 million users, most are teachers and students.

Educators have shown a particular fondness for the solution because of its ease of use, efficiency, and effectiveness. More than 10,000 schools in 170 countries and across all 50 U.S. states have implemented Mote’s technology.

“Using Mote makes providing quality feedback to my French students fast and personalized,” said French and social studies teacher Lisa Goodenough. “It saved me a ton of time when we switched to remote learning, and my students felt more connected to the feedback as well.”

Co-founders Will Jackson and Alex Nunes hatched the idea for Mote while working as senior leaders at music video company Vevo. With Jackson in San Francisco and Nunes in London and 5,300 miles between them, they saw the need for better tools to help people communicate efficiently and with empathy. They were convinced that voice messaging was the solution. 

“Research shows that when students are provided both a grade and feedback, they pay more attention to the grade and less attention to the feedback,” said Dr. Sharon Lauricella, a professor in the Department of Social Science and Humanities at Ontario Tech University. “However, when I use Mote, students are more tuned into my feedback because they can hear my voice, which better communicates my enthusiasm for helping them to improve or for my praise of their work.”

Voice notes also help give online learning a more human touch. 

“Voice notes are particularly helpful in online courses because they give additional context for my feedback to students,” added Dr. Lauricella. “Students particularly appreciate a voice note because it feels more personal.”

In addition to adding humanizing and adding context to feedback, voice notes help eliminate miscommunication as well. Current research shows that students often misunderstand written feedback, which is a problem since it has long been the main form of feedback in education. As such, implementing solutions in which verbal feedback is used is a promising intervention to prevent the misunderstanding of written feedback.

Voice technologies are also helping educators overcome accessibility issues.

“Mote is helpful for accessibility because I can not only provide a voice note, but also a transcript of my message,” said Dr. Lauricella. “This allows students to choose whether to listen, read, or do both.”

In addition to voice notes, some see text-based microlearning as the new frontier for accessibility. For those unfamiliar with the topic, the concept of microlearning is based on a delivery format where users receive short-form content, usually via text message or other short-form mediums, over an extended period of time. And when it comes to text-based microlearning, Arist wrote the book on the topic.

What sets text-based microlearning apart from other learning technologies is that it relies completely on SMS text messaging for content delivery. Not everyone has a smartphone or computer, but nearly all families in the U.S. have a phone with SMS text messaging.

“Normally, as a professor, I see the phone as a potential distraction from deep learning,” said Professor Jonathan Sims at Babson College. “However, with Arist, the phone becomes an educational tool.  Their platform allows me to deliver course content on the students’ time, which then allows me to use class time for richer discussion. Arist enhances the educational experience and enhances the job that faculty do, [which] is very, very cool.”

By nature, text-based microlearning has a few points in its favor when it comes to student engagement. First of all, the content is short. Research suggests this form of learning is even preferred. The American Institute of Physics found that 90 percent of respondents welcomed a microlearning approach to learning, compared to 75 percent for email, 72 percent for video clips, and 65 percent for images.

When comparing microlearning to traditional learning, the research also found that 82 percent of users rated microlearning as holistic and user-friendly, compared to less than 25 percent for traditional learning. Even major employers like DuPont are utilizing text-based microlearning as a supplement to online learning initiatives. DuPont Sustainable Solutions has designed text-based courses for onboarding employees, compliance training, sales skills improvement, health and wellness programs and refresher trainings.

As restrictions for in-person contact continue to ease, the use of some technologies might fade. However, there will always be a need for innovative new solutions that help the in-person, online hybrid education mix grow. COVID-19 proved to be the great litmus test for this, and it will only get more exciting from here.      

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